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Eunisses Hernandez

Executive Director, and Co-founder

Eunisses Hernandez is the Executive Director of La Defensa. A native of Los Angeles, Eunisses is a policy advocate and campaign strategist with nearly a decade of experience in working with communities most devastated by criminalization, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration.  Eunisses has seen and experienced the detrimental impacts that criminalization and lack of access to resources has on families and on our most vulnerable community members. Eunisses has been a leader in helping develop and implement sentencing reforms. Her efforts have led to the repeal and reform of frequently used sentence enhancements in California. Most recently, she has been a leader within JusticeLA, a coalition that was successful in stopping Los Angeles County’s $3.5 billion dollar jail plan. Eunisses has extensive experience in developing alternatives to incarceration, and advancing successful budget advocacy campaigns. Most recently, she co-chaired the successful Measure J, a historic ballot initiative that will move millions of locally generated tax revenue into community reinvestment and alternatives to incarceration. Currently, she sits as the Chair of the Los Angeles Gender Responsive Advisory Committee and as a voting member of the Los Angeles County Measure J Advisory Committee. Eunisses is an alum of the Women’s Policy Institute Local Government and State Policy fellowship programs, and currently sits on the Board of the Women’s Foundation of California. In 2017, she was named one of the 40 Under 40 Emerging Civic Leaders by the Empowerment Congress and the Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas. Eunisses holds a BA in Criminal Justice from California State University, Long Beach and currently resides in Los Angeles.


Ivette Alé

Co-Founder

Ivette Alé is a queer, Latinx grassroots organizer and advocate leading abolitionist in California. Their history growing up in Southern California as an undocumented person and as the child of an incarcerated person, continues to inform their activism. As the Statewide Co-Coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget and Campaign Coordinator for JusticeLA, Ivette led the coalition to historic victories, including ending LA County’s $3.5 billion jail expansion plan in 2019, the adoption of Los Angeles County’s groundbreaking Alternatives to Incarceration roadmap and the passing of Measure J in 2020.

They currently serve as Senior Policy Lead for Dignity and Power Now and Co-Founder of La Defensa. Ivette also serves as an LA County Commissioner on the Gender Responsive Advisory Committee and the Public Safety Realignment Team. Ivette is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a BA in Political Science, a Women’s Policy Institute Fellow and a UCLA Law Fellow.

 

Gabriela VÁzquez

Project Manager

Gabriela Vázquez (she/her/hers) is a native Angeleno from the neighborhood of Highland Park. She comes to our organization with experience in labor organizing, community organizing, and legal advocacy for immigrant and low income communities. Gabriela’s passion for organizing and social justice stems from her upbringing; her parents, immigrants from Ecuador and Mexico, met in the United States while working as union organizers. Gabriela recalls participating in picket lines, boycotts, and union hall meetings from a very young age. Her exposure to organizing inspired her to pursue a minor degree in Labor Studies from the University of California, Riverside along with her B.A. in Creative Writing. 

Gabriela has joined us in the fight to decarcerate the largest jail population in the United States because she wholeheartedly believes in the importance of uplifting all members of society with care, and not alienation in cages.

 

Kaitlin Ruiz

HR Operations Manager

Kaitlin Ruiz (she/her) has called Los Angeles her home for over two decades now. Her passions have been shaped by her upbringing especially as a daughter of immigrants and as a close witness to the harsh realities of the injustice system. Determined to make a difference in the communities she is a part of, Kaitlin changed paths from her corporate world background and joined La Defensa bringing with her over 6 years of professional experience in administration, operations, and organizational development. 

 Kaitlin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and is currently pursuing a masters degree in Organizational Leadership with a specialization in HR management.

 
Megan Castillo

MEGAN CASTILLO

Reimagine LA Coalition Coordinator

Megan Castillo (she/her) is a grassroots organizer originally from South Central Los Angeles, CA. Megan’s experience as a working-class, first generation college student, as well as a Black woman of color, has greatly informed her lens as an organizer.

Megan is highly committed to upending state sanctioned violence, fighting for liberation and building a better quality of life for all BIPOC identifying peoples, and has dedicated her career to improving the lives of our most vulnerable populations. This includes uplifting community-informed campaigns such as PUSH-LA, People’s Budget LA, and leading campaigns to amplify and support for over 100 Black-Owned businesses across the nation.

Currently, Megan serves as the Reimagine LA – Coalition Coordinator for Measure J, which passed November 2020, and requires L.A. County to spend at least 10% of its general funds on social services and jail diversion programs.

Most recently, Megan has served on the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California and also served as the Co-Chair for the USC Black Social Work Caucus.

Megan is the cofounder of #BlackatLMU and in 2019, Megan was awarded the Black community impact award for her dedication and efforts to raise awareness amongst her community. Megan has earned both her Bachelors in Psychology and African-American studies and her Masters in Social Work, with an emphasis in Social Change and Innovation.

Leah Perez

LEAH PEREZ

Media & Communications Coordinator

Leah Perez is a writer and curator based in Los Angeles, CA. Bringing her experiences in the arts to La Defensa, Perez currently works as the La Defensa Media and Communications Coordinator, bringing her experiences with writing and design to our team.

She holds a BA in Contemporary Latino and Latin American Studies from the University of Southern California and is currently in the second year of her Master’s Program in Curatorial Studies at the Roski School of Art and Design. Coming from the art world, Perez is interested in utilizing art as a medium for liberation, a way of highlighting Black and Brown narratives, and using art spaces as an incarceration alternative for youth of color. Her research is in the aesthetics used in Brown and Black communities of Los Angeles and the artistic language of communities like South LA and Boyle Heights.

Perez is interested in merging her interests in art and organizing together and aspires to some day start an art community space for Black and Brown youth to be educated in ethnic histories through art.

BRYANNA SIGUENZA

Judicial Policy Coordinator

Bryanna Siguenza has deep experience in student organizing, federal and state advocacy work. She is a thoughtful and critical policy analyst and political thinker. She brings leadership experience from her roles in student government and is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Policy at USC Sol Price School. She plans on dedicating her life work to improving the lives of vulnerable, underrepresented populations in Los Angeles County to ensure equity and reparations are finally achieved. Bryanna joins us to move forward our Judicial Accountability work and TransformTheJudiciary!

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Building the power of communities

A project of Tides Advocacy, our organization is leading a movement to decarcerate the largest jail population in the United States: the LA County jail system, by reducing the power and scope of the judiciary, law enforcement and the legal injustice system. We do this by fighting for a fair and transparent pretrial process, State and local budgets that reflect our values, life-affirming alternatives to incarceration, and judicial accountability.

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